2009 NY Year in Review: A Struggle to Hold the Line

Counter-clockwise from left: A postcard signed by riders calling for a funded transit system; new MTA chairman Jay Walder; car-free Broadway; new plans for Rt. 347 on Long Island; the Staten Island Expressway bus lane, now open to carpools.

New York State felt the brunt of the national recession in 2009, and its transportation agencies contended with lower revenue from fares, tolls, and taxes.  Compounding these problems was political turmoil and a lack of leadership at the MTA and NYSDOT for significant parts of the year.  In this climate, advocates tried to hold the line on both funding and policy, and succeeded in reducing fare hikes and service cuts at the MTA (though this story is not over, see below) and halting NYSDOT attempts to expand roads and close a pedestrian safety program. New York City was a happy exception, continuing to gain international acclaim for bold policies like closing parts of Broadway to cars and the “bikes in buildings” law.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority

MTA riders began the year faced with major fare hikes and devastating service cuts.  They ended the year facing very similar cuts. But despite this disheartening deja vu, the agency is in a better position now than it was 12 months ago, when a $1.2 billion budget gap led to the “doomsday” proposal of 25% fare hikes and service cuts across the system.

Last December, a commission convened by Gov. Paterson to address the MTA’s funding gap released the Ravitch Plan, a package of funding sources and governance reforms that included tolls on the East and Harlem River crossings, a payroll tax in the downstate region, and a 8% fare increase.

Tri-State and the many other organizations in the Empire State Transportation Alliance and Keep New York Moving coalitions conducted an unprecedented advocacy effort in support of long-term transit funding that included multiple trips to Albany, an advertising campaign, public events throughout the region, and online work.

In February, the State Assembly appeared ready to back bridge tolls set at the price of a subway fare, but the Senate balked. Finally, in May both houses of the Legislature passed a plan including the payroll tax, a package of vehicle fees, and a 10% fare hike which appeared to close the budget gap and partially fund the MTA capital program. As part of the funding and reform legislation, MTA executive director Elliot Sander resigned and his position was combined with the board chair’s. Gov. Paterson nominated London transit executive Jay Walder to run the system in July, and Walder began work in October.

In August, the MTA submitted a $28 billion capital program for 2010-14 that will bring the system closer to a state of good repair, complete existing megaprojects (such as East Side Access and the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway) and increase funds for bus rapid transit. It was adopted by the MTA Board in September but has not been approved by either the Capital Program Review Board or State Legislature — and even with approval, the program faces a $10 billion funding gap.

December opened with a string of bad developments for the MTA’s budget: the state cut aid, the payroll tax garnered less revenue than predicted, and an arbitrator upheld raises to unionized MTA workers. In order to balance its budget, the agency resurrected many of the previously proposed “doomsday” service cuts, which will take effect in summer 2010 absent a solution from the state. Various options to close the gap have been recommended by elected officials and advocates.

New York State Department of Transportation

The federal stimulus dominated NYSDOT’s agenda in the winter and spring. The agency wisely concentrated its funds on road and bridge repair, but struggled to get money out the door in a timely fashion. Commissioner Astrid Glynn stepped down in April, leaving deputy Stan Gee to run the agency in an acting capacity. Since then, a few of the smart growth programs instituted by Glynn have limped along, but the agency has not shown a consistent smart growth philosophy.  On Long Island, the NYSDOT regional office worked with advocates and community members to produce a plan for Route 347 that accommodates all road users. Plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge and add transit between Suffern and Port Jervis moved forward, and transit-oriented land use training for towns in the corridor began in November. But the department also canceled a Long Island traffic calming program (TSTC won back funding), illegally allowed cars onto the Staten Island Expressway’s bus lanes, and was poised to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on an expansion of the Major Deegan Expressway until community and advocate opposition turned back the project.

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MTR Holiday Schedule

MTR will be off through Christmas, and will be posting on a light schedule through January 4. Have a happy holiday season and please walk, bike, and drive safely.

Image: Via Cyclelicio.us.

NYS Capital Program Review Board Gets an Online Home

The Capital Program Review Board's website is hosted by the NYS Senate.

In early September, MTR introduced readers to New York State’s MTA Capital Program Review Board, a six-member committee with veto power over the MTA’s capital program. At the time there was virtually no public information about the board, which represents the […]

NJ Complete Streets: Victory or Empty Rhetoric?

Heeding the call from Tri-State and other groups, the New Jersey Department of Transportation has adopted a complete streets policy, signed by Commissioner Stephen Dilts on December 10th.  Complete streets is a policy that requires new or rehabilitated roads to be built for all users, including walkers, cyclist, transit riders, and drivers.

Following Connecticut’s passage of Senate Bill 735 this summer, NJ is the second state in our region to make complete streets official policy.  New York currently has a complete streets bill pending in the State Legislature.

Routes 1 & 9 in Avenel.

The policy attempts to make roads like Route 1&9 in Avenel safer. In January, a man was killed attempting to cross the road.

NJ’s departmental policy establishes “a checklist of pedestrian, bicycle and transit accommodations” like sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and medians, “with the presumption that they shall be included in each project” constructed by the department. It represents progress for an agency that has been backsliding under the Corzine Administration and losing its title as one of the most innovative transportation departments in the country.

Unfortunately, the policy contains overly broad exceptions and lacks any public process, both of which could undermine its effectiveness.

The policy contains five enumerated exceptions, reprinted below.  They include exceptions for safety, cost, and lack of need that are present in most existing complete streets policies.  However, NJ adds an exception where the “timing of a project is compromised by the inclusion of complete streets.”  It is not difficult to foresee abuse of this exception.  Adding complete street features to a construction project that did not previously include them can potentially lengthen the project’s timeline.  The policy document offers no guidance as to what length of time may count as significant.

The real danger resides in an exemption that allows project engineers to ignore the requirements of the policy for any reason, so long as it is internally documented and approved by the Capital Program Committee and Commissioner. Public input is left unmentioned in this, or any other section, of the policy.  Contrast this to a similar exception proposed in Delaware where waivers are very limited and subject to two appeal levels and approval by up to nine officials.

Still, the policy is a good step and gives Governor-elect Christie’s administration an opportunity to strengthen the policy and ensure New Jersey Department of Transportation regains its foothold as a innovative and sustainable transportation leader.

Comparing Exemptions in Tri-State Policies:

For comparison, here are the exemption sections from Connecticut’s law, New York’s proposed legislation, and New Jersey’s complete streets policy.  While each contains overly broad categories for exempting projects, NJ includes and expands the exemptions to the point that the policy directive can be rendered meaningless:

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Help Us Raise $2,500 for Portable Computers!

Examples of our work: (L to R) The report "Express Route to Better Bus Service" examined ways to improve service across the Hudson; TSTC organized many events to highlight the needs of LI Bus and MTA riders; the Campaign and One Region Funders' Group awarded transit-oriented development grants to towns in the region.


Advocates Blanket LI Bus Stops in Mineola, Hempstead

While MTA transit riders are facing draconian reductions in service once again, LI Bus riders are having a particularly rough year. They have faced service cuts and/or fare hikes not once, not twice, but now an unprecedented three times.

TSTC's Kate Slevin spoke with bus riders in Hempstead yesterday.

In response, advocates from […]

CT Electeds Can't Let Politics Sidetrack New Haven-Springfield Rail

The route.

[Update 12/31: Gov. Rell has announced that the NHHS rail money will be on the agenda of the Bond Commission’s January 8 meeting.]

The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line was on the agenda at the November meeting of the Connecticut Bond Commission. But the commission failed to release $6 million for […]

Five Ways to Stop MTA Service Cuts

Top: Students and community activists protested in East New York against a plan to end the student MetroCard program. Bottom: NYC Council Speaker Quinn and Councilmember Vacca held a press conference with advocates at City Hall.

Today, despite protests citywide, the MTA Board approved a package of drastic service cuts and an end […]

Stimulus Instead of Service Cuts?

After successfully winning a $2 billion financing solution earlier in June, transit riders, elected officials and MTA board members alike are frustrated by the nearly $400 million budget shortfall at the end of the year. According to MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson, the unforeseen deficit is the result of lower than expected revenue from the […]

Transportation Job Board, National Edition

NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (shown here with Rep. James Oberstar) is the current president of NACTO, which is seeking an executive director.

Have experience in transportation advocacy or organizing, and looking to move outside the region?  A couple of groups that Tri-State works with are hiring:

National Association of City Transportation Officials, Executive […]